Some of the notable deaths in 2016
The region lost a number of notable residents in 2016, including singer Bobby Vee; Scott Miller, known as the voice of the Bison and the RedHawks; and Judge Myron Bright, the longest-serving working judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Here's a look back at some of the names and faces we lost in 2016.
• Nels D. Thompson, 86, Moorhead, died Jan. 4. In the early 1980s, he took a job at St. Luke's Hospital (now Sanford) in Fargo and retired in 1993, but very much enjoyed staying busy. Over the years, he volunteered more than 13,000 hours at the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo.
• Ed Beyer, the legendary North Dakota high school basketball coach who came to symbolize discipline and patience on the court, died Jan. 10. He was 77. Beyer coached the Hillsboro High School boys basketball team for 37 years, retiring after the 1997 season. He had a 688-195 win-loss mark at Hillsboro. He holds the record for most basketball coaching victories in North Dakota — Dan Carr of Linton-H-M-B recently registered his 689th coaching win, but Carr accumulated 36 wins in Minnesota before moving to Linton in 1981. In addition to being a successful coach, the 5-foot-5 Beyer also was known for his attire. "Ed was flamboyant,'' said Jim Howson, a long-time coaching adversary of Beyer during his tenure as Hatton's coach from 1966-97. "He was possibly the best-dressed basketball coach in the Midwest with his suits and shiny boots.'' Beyer was inducted into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
• Clara Hedin was known regionwide for flogging fleischkuechle and knoephla, in a distinctively German bark more reminiscent of a drill sergeant than a dear little old lady. But to the man who cast her two decades ago as "an authority figure" to sell his tagline for Kroll's Diner — "Sit down and eat!" — Hedin turned out to be even sweeter than your typical pie-pushing granny. Hedin, 88, of Moorhead, died Jan. 28. "She was just a peach," David Hanson said. The octogenarian had only recently taken a back seat in her promotional duties for the small chain of North Dakota restaurants that made her and fellow Kroll's lady Pat Sondrall of Fargo famous. She and Sondrall starred in more than 20 Kroll's commercials beginning in 2000. Hanson was working for another ad agency that wanted to sell Kroll's as the latest 1950s-style sock hop spot. But when their research discovered Kroll's big draw was its western North Dakota-influenced German cooking, Hanson decided youth wasn't the way to sell the diner. Instead, a little-old-lady search landed him Hedin, who had worked in food service and the hospitality shop for the past 25 years at then-St. Luke's hospital, now Sanford Medical Center, said her daughter, Loree Brenna of Moorhead. Hedin's stern, Teutonic line readings of his scripts for the ad campaign made Hanson laugh right off the bat, and boom — Hedin had a new career. The ad campaign moved with Hanson when he went to H2M in 2001, and Hedin and the Kroll's account went with him.
• Jason David Moszer, 33, of Sabin, Minn., a Fargo police officer, died Feb. 11 following injuries suffered in the line of duty. He grew up in Fargo and graduated from Fargo South High School in 2001. He served with the Minnesota Army National Guard as a combat medic for eight years until he was honorably discharged. He deployed to Bosnia from July 2003 to March 2004 and to Iraq from March 2006 to June 2007. In 2009, he graduated from North Dakota State University with a criminal justice degree and later attended Lake Region Law Enforcement Academy that year. He started with the Fargo Police Department in 2009
• James George III, 55, West Fargo, died Feb. 16 when the motorized hang glider he was piloting crashed on takeoff from a municipal airport in Buckeye, Ariz. George was previously in a serious plane crash in 2005, when the plane he was piloting crashed-landed in a north Fargo home's front yard. Both George and a passenger in the plane were seriously injured in the crash, which happened when the plane's engine seized shortly after takeoff from Hector International Airport. At the time of the crash, George operated Eagle 1 Aviation, a flight instruction, aircraft rental and sales business. In the aftermath of the crash, fellow pilots credited George's skills as a pilot for avoiding injuries to anyone on the ground. Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of Hector International Airport in Fargo, said he remembered George as someone who was always enthusiastic and excited about aviation.
• Rod Lucier, a longtime sportscaster who promoted a fateful Buddy Holly show in Moorhead almost 60 years ago, died Feb. 21. He was 82. Lucier enjoyed a long career at Moorhead's KVOX Radio as a sports announcer and sales manager. He also booked performances by rock 'n' roll stars such as Johnny Cash and Gene Vincent at the Moorhead Armory. On Feb. 3, 1959, Lucier booked Buddy Holly for a concert that Holly never attended. Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, also known as the Big Bopper, died in a plane crash en route. The tragedy was later referred to as "The Day the Music Died," and was notably memorialized in the Don McLean song "American Pie." Despite the crash, Lucier's show went on and included a local band called The Shadows. One member of The Shadows, Bob Velline of Fargo, would later go by Bobby Vee and find international fame. Dick Dunkirk, bassist for The Shadows, called Lucier "a mover and shaker for live entertainment." But Lucier's true calling was being a sportscaster. On KVOX, he announced high school and college sports and hosted a Saturday morning show called Rod Lucier's Benchwarmer's Club, where he interviewed coaches and athletes.
• Sports fans knew Scott Miller as the voice of the Bison and RedHawks. They knew his gentlemanly manner behind the microphone, his ready command of statistics and his signature phrase, "My, oh my!" But those who knew him best—coaches, sports journalists, fellow broadcasters — remember Scotty Miller as an uncommonly decent man who cared deeply about his colleagues and the players whose games he announced. Miller died Feb. 25 at age 57 after a battle with skin cancer that was diagnosed in 2012 and had recently returned. Miller devoted his life to the teams he covered with play-by-play radio broadcasts—first in the area for WDAY and then for KFGO—North Dakota State University Bison football and basketball teams and Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks baseball. Colleagues remembered Miller as an announcer with great attention to detail. He arrived early for games to set up and make sure everything was ready. Miller became the voice of the Bison in 1996, first for WDAY and then for KFGO. The Minot, N.D., native also called football and men's basketball for University of North Dakota games from 1992 to 1995. He became the voice of the RedHawks in 2006, taking over for Jack Michaels. Miller's awards included a North Dakota Broadcasters Association Teddy Award, and a National Sportscasters and a Sportswriters Association North Dakota sportscaster of the year award in 2010.
• Longtime Fargo teacher Robert Dean Hendricks, 78, of Fargo, died Feb 26. He and his wife taught in Nebraska before moving to Fargo, where he began his 36-year tenure with the Fargo Public Schools. He began teaching at Central High School prior to the school burning in 1966, when he endured the next two years of split classes at North High while South High was being built. Hendricks was one of the original staff members for the first day of classes at South High, where he taught until retiring in 2001. Hendricks taught English and journalism during his career and was the adviser for both the Sudhian newspaper and the Bruin yearbook. He lived and breathed as a Fargo South High Bruin; bringing to the school widespread recognition and many national awards for himself and for his students' outstanding journalistic abilities.
• During the past two decades or so, if your summertime morning commute took you past Dike West near downtown Fargo, you probably noticed at times boys and girls doing layup drills on the outdoor basketball courts. And if you ever wondered who that tall man was conducting obviously a structured practice, his name was John May. May, who died Feb. 26 at the age of 61, was by no means a well-known public figure here in Fargo-Moorhead, but he was certainly recognizable and unforgettable among the hundreds of lives he touched. For more than 20 years, he made countless numbers of boys and girls excited to play the sport he loved — basketball. He grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. When he headed west to play basketball at Jamestown (N.D.) College, May's enthusiasm for the game was contagious. "I am going to take you under my wing," May would tell his younger teammates. He continued with that philosophy when he started coaching youth basketball in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
• John J. Neumaier, who was the seventh president of Minnesota State University Moorhead, died May 30 at the age of 94. Neumaier was president from 1958 to 1968 and oversaw the transition from a teachers college to then-Moorhead State College. Neumaier was a Jewish refugee who escaped Nazi-controlled Germany in the 1930s. His mother, a former opera star, died in a concentration camp in Poland in 1942. Neumaier emigrated to the U.S. by way of Switzerland and then England before obtaining a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Minnesota. Just 37 when he took the helm in Moorhead, he expanded the college's liberal arts course offerings and saw enrollment greatly increase, from 1,000 students in 1958 to 5,000 a decade later. One of MSUM's residence halls, a three-story red brick building on the south end of campus, bears Neumaier's name.
• Kathleen Ann Weir, a former Clay County District Court judge who helped Kosovo rebuild its justice system after a civil war, died July 31 at her Fargo home. She was 74. Weir was a local judge for about 17 years before going to Kosovo in 2004 when the country was dealing with the aftermath of ethnic violence following the breakup of Yugoslavia. She spent five years in Kosovo working for the United Nations as a member of the Kosovo Supreme Court. She presided over a number of war crimes trials, an experience that instilled in her a deeper appreciation for the U.S. Constitution. "We need to strive very, very hard—always—to protect our Bill of Rights so that we do not end up with the kind of oppression that happened at Kosovo," she told The Forum in 2010. Weir was born in southern Minnesota and graduated from the University of South Dakota Law School in 1973. During her legal career, she settled income tax appeals for the Internal Revenue Service and practiced law in Moorhead. After returning from Kosovo, she opened her own mediation and arbitration service, which focused mainly on family issues.
• Garylle Stewart, a former Fargo city attorney who was known for his rock-solid knowledge of the city's laws, died Aug. 1 at the age of 76. Stewart, who went by Gary, was the city's attorney for 38 years. He helped craft many of Fargo's liquor laws and often did pro bono work for nursing home residents. "His phrase always was, 'Let's make something as simple as possible,' " said Pat Zavoral, former Fargo city administrator, who worked with Stewart for 37 years. Stewart, born in Humboldt, Minn., attended Minnesota State University Moorhead and earned a law degree from the University of North Dakota in 1968. He also co-founded the Solberg Stewart Miller law firm that year.
• Pete Iverson, owner of Pistol Pete's in Moorhead, died July 31 at age 74. He owned many bars over his five decades in the hospitality business, both in the Fargo-Moorhead area and in South Dakota. He never officially graduated from high school, but managed to get a master's degree in business from a South Dakota college. Iverson's son Wade said his father loved the music side of the bar business, and for many years, Pistol Pete's had live bands playing six nights a week. "He was a big supporter of live entertainment, that was his thing," Wade Iverson said.
• Jake Laber, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks pitcher, died unexpectedly Aug. 14 at age 30. He died just days before he was to be married. Laber was almost entirely local with his baseball career, starting with Fargo North High School and Fargo American Legion, moving on to North Dakota State and then spending six years with the RedHawks, where he retired after the 2014 season as the team's all-time leader in pitching wins with 46. The left-hander also had RedHawks career records for games started with 102, innings pitched with 648.1 and strikeouts with 407.
• Steve Balstad, a longtime Fargo fire chief, died Aug. 15 at the age of 64. "In a crisis, he was one of the calmest persons you could ever meet, said Assistant Fargo Fire Chief LeRoy Skarloken. Balstad died when he suffered a medical emergency and the pickup he was driving crashed near Lake Park, Minn. Balstad retired from the Fargo Fire Department in 2014 after serving in the department for 40 years. He was hired as a Fargo firefighter in 1974 and promoted to lieutenant in 1987. Named captain in 1995, he was promoted to assistant chief in 2000. He was acting chief from July to November 2011.
• Vic Fergen, the namesake of Vic's Lounge in the Moorhead Center Mall, died Sept. 16 at the age of 92. He retired from the bar business in 1994, but still frequented the establishment in the years that followed. Fergen was born in Parkston, S.D., one of 12 siblings. He married and moved to Fargo, where he and his wife had five children. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II and on the Moorhead City Council for 10 years. In the late 1950s, he opened Vic's Southside Superette, a small grocery he operated for more than 25 years near the campus of what is now Minnesota State University Moorhead. Scott Fergen said his father had a soft spot for customers who were short of cash. "If you couldn't pay for the food, he'd mark you down on the list, and you would pay him when you could pay him," Fergen said. Vic Fergen brought that same kind of customer service to the bar business. In 1983, he and son Doug Fergen bought the former La Casa Lounge and named it Vic's Lounge. Vic Fergen operated the bar with his son for 10 years before turning over full-time duties to him.
• Peter Dae Lewis, 76, of Bakersfield, Calif., died Thursday, Sept. 29. An Iowa native, Lewis graduated from the University of North Dakota and earned a law degree in 1965 from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. His wife, Mary Black, who died in 1988, had a joint ownership position in The Forum. When she died, her ownership share was transferred to Peter Lewis, who then sold that ownership share to the Bill and Jane Marcil family in 1989.
• Longtime regional sportscasting legend Jim Adelson died Sept. 30, at the age of 91, in Scottsdale, Ariz. "He went out with a smile on his face," his son Steve said. "He loved the fact the Bison beat Iowa two weeks ago." For more than 25 years, the sportscaster made nightly appearances on television sets across the Red River Valley on Fargo's KXJB, Channel 4. For many years, his was the voice of North Dakota State University Bison sports and University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey. That longevity made Adelson, KXJB's sports director, a household name in Fargo-Moorhead and secured a following for both local high school and regional sports. He was one of a kind, branching out from the anchor desk to provide play-by-play televised broadcasts for the East Region boys basketball tournament and hosting his popular "Hole-in-One Golf Show," which aired Sunday nights for more than two decades.
Golf remained a passion for Adelson throughout his life. He said in 2014 he was still playing Adelson kept in touch with the Fargo-Moorhead sports scene as a bi-monthly guest on a KFGO radio show hosted by Derek Hanson.
• David Johnson, co-founder of Polaris Industries in Roseau, Minn., died Oct. 8 at age 93. Johnson liked to say laziness inspired the first Polaris snowmobile. "We didn't want to ski up to hunting camp," he told the Grand Forks Herald in 2015. "We just wanted to see if we could make a machine that would go in snow. We wanted to be able to get up to the Northwest Angle and places like that because we were 'Up North' people who liked to hunt and fish." He built the first snowmobile in January 1956. It was assembled from parts on hand in a Roseau machine shop, including binder chains for the track and a car bumper for skis. A Roseau County native, Johnson, along with boyhood friend and brother-in-law Edgar Hetteen, had started the Hetteen Hoist and Derrick company in Roseau in 1945, making straw choppers and other equipment. Edgar's brother, Allan, joined them in 1948. They incorporated as Polaris Industries in 1954, taking the name from a sprayer they had purchased from a developer in North Dakota. Before snowmobiles became their flagship product, the Roseau entrepreneurs made everything from plowshares to garbage cans.
• Rock legend with Fargo roots Bobby Vee, 73, died Oct. 24 from complications related to Alzheimer's disease in the Rogers, Minn., memory care facility where he lived for the past year. "The Day the Music Died"—Feb. 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper perished in a plane crash en route to a show at the Moorhead Armory—was a dark day for rock 'n' roll. But on Feb. 4, a new light emerged. Fifteen-year-old Fargoan Bobby Vee and his new band The Shadows stepped up to fill the bill at the Moorhead Armory show. With that, the singer/guitarist took his first step into rock history. Robert Thomas Velline was born April 30, 1943, in Fargo. Raised in a musical household, young Bobby followed suit and started playing saxophone at Central High School. When his older brother, guitarist Bill Velline, started playing with bassist Jim Stillman and drummer Bob Korum, Bobby begged to join, but they thought he was too young. He won them over with a velvety smooth voice. The group hadn't played together much and didn't have a name until just before taking the stage at the Moorhead Armory that fateful night. "I remember being petrified when the curtains opened," Vee told The Forum 19 years later. "I was blinded by the spotlight and just numb all over." That June, he and The Shadows recorded "Suzie Baby" and the song was on the radio later that summer. Hits like "Devil or Angel" and "Rubber Ball" kept coming. In 1961, he released his only No. 1 song, "Take Good Care of My Baby," written by Carole King and Gerry Coffin. The follow-up, "Run to Him," peaked at No. 2 and in 1962 he reached No. 3 with "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes." Vee's clean-cut good looks made him a teen idol, but he only had eyes for his sweetheart Karen Bergen of Detroit Lakes, Minn. Their 1963 wedding was a front-page story in The Forum. The couple stayed together until she died in August 2015. The couple had four children: Jeff, Tommy, Robby and Jennifer and in the early 1980s, moved from Los Angeles to St. Cloud, Minn. Vee released more than 25 albums, six of which went gold. He made it to the Top 100 38 times. He played concerts with legends such as Ray Charles, Dion and the Belmonts, Del Shannon, Gene Pitney and others. In 1999 he received the Rough Rider Award, the highest honor given to North Dakotans. Vee's most legendary rock relationship was with Robert Zimmerman, now known as Nobel Prize-winning singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. At the time, Zimmerman was passing himself off as a piano player and Vee brought him on the road for a short period. They parted ways, but remained friendly, reconnecting when Dylan played the Fargo Civic Center. During a 2013 show in St. Paul, the normally mum Dylan praised Vee, calling him "the most meaningful person I'd ever been on the stage with," then played, "Suzie Baby." In his memoir, "Chronicles: Volume One," Dylan said of his former boss, "I'd always thought of him as a brother." His strongest relationships remained with his family. In late 2014, Vee's children started digitizing and archiving his music. Vee retired from performing in 2012 when he announced he had Alzheimer's. Jeff Velline said that although his father quit making music, he would react when listening to his old songs.
• West Fargo Sheyenne High School Principal Greg Grooters never wavered in his passion and dedication for his school and students. He continued to go to school just days before his death Nov. 14. Grooters, 56, died at Sanford Palliative Care in Fargo, just a week after students, parents and staff were notified that he would not return to Sheyenne High School as principal. Grooters taught in West Fargo from 1986 to 1990. He left the district for a few years then returned to the West Fargo School District in 1998, serving as an assistant principal at West Fargo High School. In 2007, he was named principal of the Sheyenne 9th Grade Center. He was instrumental in transitioning the 9th Grade Center into a grades nine through 12 high school with its own activities and sports teams. Sheyenne fully became a high school in 2015, with the first senior class graduating in 2016. "His will be a lasting legacy and he will be remembered as the guide and architect of the exciting, but difficult, transition from one high school to two high schools," West Fargo School Superintendent David Flowers said. "It was obvious in watching him work that he loved his job, loved West Fargo Public Schools and loved kids." Grooters earned a bachelor's degree in math education and computer science from Valley City State University. He then taught math at Fargo Shanley High School and Moorhead High School. He also coached track and cross country. Grooters earned a master's degree in education from North Dakota State University and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of North Dakota.
• Don Setter of Moorhead grew up with nine siblings in a house so tiny the kids slept in beds on assigned nights. As a teenager, he saved his money to buy his mother a washing machine. As a young man, he worked three jobs to provide for his family, selling insurance, real estate and yeast. The yeast connection led to a fateful friendship with a beer distributor in Moorhead, a business Setter bought in 1968 and turned into D-S Beverages Inc., which distributes Budweiser and other Anheuser-Busch products. Setter, who battled multiple illnesses, died Nov. 22, at the age of 85. "He was a self-made man," said Doug Restemayer, Setter's son-in-law and the current owner of D-S Beverages. "Started with nothing." D-S Beverages, 201 17th St. N., is located about two blocks from Setter's boyhood home. He was a lifelong Moorhead resident, having attended St. Joseph's Elementary School, Moorhead High School and what then was called Minnesota State College. Even after selling the business, in 2000, Setter continued to be involved in the operation until his health began failing six years ago. "He never did retire," Restemayer said.
• Judge Myron Bright, a champion of equal rights for minorities and women and the longest-serving working judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, died Dec. 12 in Fargo at age 97. "He was living history," said Christian Golding, his son-in-law. "He was more than just quite a man. He was a legend." Until a couple of weeks before his death, Bright was still hearing cases as a judge in senior status on the appeals court, Golding said. William Jay Riley, chief judge for the 8th Circuit, said Bright was revered by judges and lawyers nationwide. Ralph Erickson, a U.S. District Court judge for the District of North Dakota, said Bright was a good friend. "Myron Bright was really a legal giant in our community," Erickson said. "There are not many men of his stature that are produced in this country at any one time. He was extremely intelligent and a very capable man. ... He was an excellent judge, but he was truly a good person." Bright was born March 5, 1919, in Eveleth, Minn., the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father first worked in the shipyards of Duluth, then eventually bought a store in Eveleth, where Bright grew up during the Great Depression. He was admitted to the North Dakota Bar in 1947, and practiced law for 21 years before President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to the federal bench. On Aug. 16, 1968, Bright was sworn in as a judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. By 2013, Bright estimated he had heard 7,000 cases and written 2,500 opinions. Even as late as 2014, he was hearing 40 to 50 cases a year, he said. In all, Bright served more than 48 years as a federal judge between full-time and senior status. In late 2012, Bright was honored with the Robert Feder Humanitarian of the Year award by Temple Beth El in Fargo. His autobiography, "Goodbye Mike, Hello Judge: My Journey for Justice," was published by North Dakota State University in 2014.